The world is reeling from the mass exodus of refugees into Europe. The migrant crisis has tested the limits of diplomacy, governance and humanity. Countries continue to bicker about how to handle the situation, and the response that the refugees have received ranges from being locked into detention refugee camps to having 13 ft walls built between them and the residents.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land, and these figures do not include those who got in undetected. Billions have been spent to accommodate them, provide food, housing and basic healthcare when possible, and also on patrolling the seas to prevent boat capsizing accidents and further deaths of refugees travelling in dingy boats. It is safe to say that one million refugees migrating across half the world has grossly upset the delicate balance of global harmony, and so what will the future hold for the nearly 200 million people who will be displaced due to climate change in the next two decades?

Climate change didn’t happen overnight, so we can’t fix it overnight. The Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts. It is hence very likely that the number of people migrating du to destroyed ecosystems and livelihoods, will exceed expectation as well. Families and communities have already started to suffer from the consequences of climate change, forced to leave their homes in search of a new beginning. The only difference between them and the Syrian refugees is that the term such as “climate refugee” is still not classified as legal categorisations, and this global population of future refugees does not have any international legal protection or agency upholding their basic human rights and helping to keep them safe.

This means that the estimated 200,000 Bangladeshis who become homeless each year due to river erosion, cannot on the grounds of climate change destroying their livelihoods, appeal for resettlement in another country. It also means that the residents of the small islands of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu, who have migrated in thousands due to worsening environmental conditions, can’t be classified as refugees. The latest figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2015 report show that more than 19 million people from 100 countries were forced to flee their homes in 2014 because of natural disasters, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate- or weather-related events since 2008. National responses to disasters have been fragmented and less adequate than hoped for.

Despite these alarming facts, the issue of climate refugees were not given due importance in the Paris COP21 conclusion agreement. The document does not mention “refugees” or other terms like “migration” and “mobility”. It does, however, call for a task force to “develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimise and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change”.

For agencies such as the UNHCR, the consequences of climate change, and the challenges they will face to cater to them are enormous. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited. Many crops and some livestock are unlikely to thrive in higher temperatures. Food security, access to water, sanitation, education and healthcare will be the concerns of the people trying to adapt to the new normal. Disasters and slow onsets, such as droughts in Somalia in 2011 and 2012, floods in Pakistan between 2010 and 2012, and the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, have left huge numbers of people traumatized without shelter, clean water and basic supplies, and if that is not a prelude of what is to come in the future that we don’t know what is.

On January 21, 2016, America’s first climate migrants were awarded $48 million to relocate after the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe lost 98 percent of its land to the encroaching Gulf waters. Of the 22,400-acre island that stood at that time, only a 320-acre strip remains. The land is disappearing into the Gulf because of a combination of coastal erosion, rising sea levels, lack of soil renewal, and shifting soil due to dredging for oil and gas pipeline placement. The effects of climate change have deeply coastal communities around the world, the people of Isle de Jean Charles will be only 60 of the estimated 200 million people in coastal communities globally who could possibly be displaced by 2050 because of climate change.

It is only hoped that this incident and the cost that the US has disbursed in relocating its climate migrants, will propel them into considering the very imminent threat posed to the world due to another mass exodus caused by the destruction of climate change. In doing so there is a pressing need to legally accept the existence of climate migrants and ensure that a higher body exists to protect their legal rights and keeps them from perishing along with their homes and everything else that they hold dear.